The Daily Beet

27 May Tuesdays With Jeff: Insights Into Your Health: A Date With Disaster (plus a giveaway)

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We got the following e-mail last week, and asked Jeff Novick, MS, RD to shed some light on the pleasure trap of whole natural foods.

“I have been eating a plant-strong diet for 6 months now, I initially lost but now I am gaining! In the past 4 months I’ve gained 32 pounds! I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. All of the food I eat is salt, oil, sugar free. I do enjoy eating nuts and dates, but like I said, it’s all salt/oil/sugar free. Maybe this is not for me?”

Have you found yourself in the same situation? Jeff shares the issue with some “whole natural foods”.

A Date With Disaster: The Pleasure Trap of Whole Natural Foods ©

Jeff Novick, MS, RD ©

Healthy foods are healthy foods.

Sounds silly, but it is amazing how much is often promoted as being healthy when it isn’t—and how many terms are associated with health that may or may not be healthy at all.

For instance, we often hear words such as “whole,” “natural,” “plant,” “unprocessed,” etc., in relation to the health aspects of a food.  Foods, recipes and products are frequently promoted as being healthy and often solely based on these descriptions.

However, these terms, in and of themselves, are not always synonymous with health and, in and of themselves, have no real health meaning.  Whole foods can be healthy or unhealthy. Same with foods that are labeled “natural,” “vegan” and/or “unprocessed.”  You can actually consume a diet that is unhealthy, yet it is made up of mainly whole, plant, natural and unprocessed foods.

In fact, I just analyzed a recipe that was made from 100% whole, unprocessed foods; but it was 40% saturated fat and 26% added sugars.  It may have been whole, natural, plant and unprocessed, but I wouldn’t touch it.

Yet, at the same time, there are many “processed” foods that are extremely healthy.  Part of the confusion over this issue has to do with understanding exactly what a processed food is (or isn’t) and the impact of processing on food.  Some processing actually increases the health value of a food, while some processing decreases the health value of a food.  So, while this is an important issue in and of itself, we will save this topic for a separate article on another day.   🙂

In the meantime, it is important to move beyond terms such as “whole,” “natural,” “vegan” and/or “unprocessed” as the defining criteria of what is healthy.   In and of themselves, these terms have no real “health” meaning.  So, while a healthy diet tends to be one that includes more foods that are whole, plant, natural and unprocessed, these, in and of themselves, do not define what is healthy.

What really matters most are the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie.

Americans are sick and fat mostly from consuming excess calories, excess added sugars/sweeteners, excess added salt, excess saturated fat, excess refined grains/carbohydrates and excess cholesterol. Not just calories, salt, sugar, saturated fat, refined grains and cholesterol, but the amount and, as you will see, especially the concentration.

This is especially an important issue for those of us who find ourselves caught up in “the pleasure trap.”  We may find that we still have problems with some whole, natural, plant foods, especially in regard to fat and sugar.   Salt is not really an issue in regard to whole natural plant foods, as it does not show up anywhere in any whole, natural, plant food in a concentrated amount.  Neither does cholesterol.   But, fat and sugar do.

So, lets take a closer look at those two and see why they can be a problem.

In regard to “the pleasure trap” and to food addictions, no substance is 100% addictive. Not fat, sugar, or even alcohol, heroin or cocaine. In fact, only about 24% of people who try heroin become addicted.

In addition, the exact same molecules (glucose, fructose, etc.) that make up “sugars” in concentrated refined sugars, are the same exact molecules found in many “whole, natural, unprocessed, plant” foods such as corn, beets and fruits. So, the questions is, why do they seem addictive when we consume them in the form of table sugar or honey but not in the form of fruit or corn?

The answer has to do with concentration. Same as with cocaine. Coca leaves are not very addictive. Cocaine, a more concentrated form, has a much higher potential for addiction. Crack, a much more concentrated form, is much more highly addictive.

Let’s look at sugar.

(The same example will also hold true for fat.)

Sugars that occur in most foods (fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, whole grains, etc.) are not very concentrated as they come in a package that is high in water and fiber and full or vitamins and minerals.  Rarely do these foods ever cause anyone to feel as though they are addicted.   Few, if any, would say they can’t stop eating and/or are addicted to beets, corn or even fruit.

But, when we extract and concentrate the sugars in the form of table sugar or we use other refined sugars, such as brown sugar or turbinado sugar, or even when we use naturally occurring sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup (which are equally concentrated in sugar even though they are “natural” and “unprocessed”), suddenly we find many people feeling they are addicted to these foods and getting caught in “the pleasure trap” from them.

So, the real issue is not sugar, or whether the sugar is “whole,” “natural,” “plant” or “unprocessed,” but the concentration of the sugar.   Again, concentration is the real issue.

So, lets look at some foods that are sources of sugar and see how they compare in their concentrations of sugar, or “sugar density” (grams of sugar per lb of food)

Fresh Fruit

Apple – 47

Orange – 42

Banana – 55

Pineapple – 44

Watermelon – 28

Blueberries – 45

Starchy Vegetables

Peas 21

Corn 28

Potato 5

Dried Fruit

Medjool Dates – 301

Deglet Noor Dates – 287

Raisins – 268

Concentrated Sugars

Honey – 372

Sugar – 453

As we can see, there is a large difference in the sugar concentration between concentrated sugars (honey, sugar) and fresh fruit and between concentrated sugars and starchy vegetables.

However, notice that the sugar concentration of dried fruit is very similar to the sugar concentration of many natural, unprocessed and refined, concentrated sugars.   This is why for many people, foods like dried fruits, and dishes that are based on dried fruits, may need to be minimized or avoided.

For example, someone who has a problem with sugar may have a problem with dried fruit (i.e. dates) and not an apple. Why? Both have sugar, but dates are far more concentrated in sugar than an apple is in regard to sugar density (301 to 47), and it is the concentration that is the real issue.

As such, someone who has a problem with fat may have a problem with nuts but not oatmeal. Why? Well, they both have fat, but in regard to fat density (grams of fat per lb of food), nuts are far more concentrated in fat than oatmeal  (224 vs. 7), and it is the concentration that is the real issue.

As with foods high in calorie density, you can avoid a problem with a food concentrated in sugar (or fat) by diluting it with another food that is low in sugar (or fat) density.

So, adding a little but of sugar or dates to a large bowl of oatmeal will have little effect on someone as the total sugar concentration will be low, regardless of whether the sugar came from a concentrated sugar or dates.  The oatmeal will dilute out the total concentration of the sugar in the total meal.

Same with fat.  Adding a little bit of nuts or avocado to a large dish of rice, beans and veggies will have little impact on someone as the total fat concentration will be low.  The rice, beans and vegetables will dilute out the total concentration of fat in the total meal.

However, mixing a concentrated sugar (sugar or dates), with a food concentrated in fat (i.e. nuts), can be very problematic in regard to “the pleasure trap” and food addictions. The reason is that we now have a food concentrated in both sugar and fat (i.e. date/nuts truffles), which may really set off “the pleasure trap” for many people.

That’s why even though a date/nut truffle made be made up of only “Whole,” “Natural,” “Unprocessed,” “Plant” foods, it is hard for many of us to eat just one.

I know.  🙂

Now, clearly, a date/nut truffle is a much healthier food than a snickers bar, but the date/nut truffle is still a food concentrated in calories, fat and sugar; and, for many of us, it can easily trigger “the pleasure trap” again.

So, if these foods are problematic for you, then avoid them and stick to foods and recipes that are very low in sugar density, fat density, or both and/or have no added, concentrated sugars and/or concentrated fats.

If not, then enjoy them.

In Health,


All reference to “the pleasure trap” refers to the concept as defined by Dr Alan Goldhamer and Dr Doug Lisle in their book, “The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness.”


Today we are giving away Jeff’s DVD: “Nuts and Health“. Find out the truth about nuts!  To enter to win leave a comment below about your thoughts on “The Pleasure Trap of Whole Foods”.

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Jeff Novick
Jeff Novick

Jeff Novick, MS, RD, LD, LN is truly a unique dietitian and nutritionist. With over 24 years of experience in nutrition, health, fitness and natural living, he offers expert health advice distilled into powerful, easy-to-understand language on a variety of current topics.Novick’s insightful and humorous approach to nutrition and health has helped thousands worldwide make the transition to healthy living. He holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Indiana State University in nutrition, with a minor in exercise science.Novick serves as Vice President for Executive Health Exams International and lectures at the McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California and at the Engine 2 Immersion program in Austin, Texas. He is also the Director of Nutrition for the Meals for Health program, which is helping empower low-income families to achieve optimal health.For almost a decade, Novick served as the Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Center in Aventura, Florida, and as Vice President of the Board of the Directors for the National Health Association (NHA). He also served as the Director of Health Education for the NHA and as an Adjunct Professor in the School of Health Sciences for Kaplan University.Novick has taught nutrition classes at Indiana State University, Indiana University Medical School, the University of Miami Medical School and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians. He regularly lectures at medical conferences across the country. While in Indiana, he created and taught the Nutrition Education Initiative, a preventive medicine curriculum for medical doctors, residents and medical students. In recognition of this groundbreaking project, Indiana’s governor awarded Novick the Indiana State Public Health Excellence in Health Science Award and Indiana State University awarded him the Graduate-of-the-Last-Decade Award.He has been interviewed by Newsday, Parade, Men’s Health, Shape, Women’s World and has appeared on Fox News, Discovery Health, the Today Show and other media outlets nationwide. He recently appeared in the documentary Processed People and the movie Fatboy, which won the Best Documentary award at the Fort Lauderdale and Queens Film Festivals.

  • Andy Levy-Stevenson
    Posted at 23:36h, 27 May

    It’s taken me a long time to really take on board the difference between “healthy food” and “healthy food that will help me lose weight”. Nuts and dried fruit aren’t such an issue for me; my problem is baked goods of all sorts.

    Those cookies may be made from 100% whole grain flour, agave, flax, etc. etc. … but I’m simply not built for eating just one, and so they’re still going to tip the balance between my losing weight or gaining.

    • helen
      Posted at 16:31h, 14 June

      Andy, I went gluten free and have incredible relief from cookies, pastas, etc. Well worth a try to commit. No more carbo coma.

  • Kyle Plattner
    Posted at 07:25h, 28 May

    Dates and nuts are good separately. They are unbelievable when combined. This was my trap and it seemed so harmless. Thanks for explaining – I would love to learn more!

    • Jeff Novick
      Posted at 09:05h, 28 May

      Especially if they are blended together. This is due to the impact of the process called emulsion which is well known and used by the food industry for its impact on us as it can trigger over consumption . Either one by itself is an issue but when emulsified, it is like 1+ 1 = 3. You can read more about it in the new book, Fat, Sugar, Salt.


      • Kyle Plattner
        Posted at 09:09h, 28 May

        Exactly! And it can be so easy to accept as ok because it is “natural.” Thanks so much for the great material and the response! Keep it up.

        I also enjoyed your burgers and fries DVD but would love to watch more!

  • Lauren Gladstone
    Posted at 08:27h, 28 May

    Thanks for reminding me to always think about what I am eating. It is so easy to eat foods that are “healthy”, yet are high in sugars and/or fat. I definitely get stuck in the “pleasure trap” since I love sweets! I have to remember to only eat when I am hungry and not because it tastes so good, regardless if it is “healthy”.

  • Barry Honeycombe
    Posted at 08:28h, 28 May

    I spent years eating what i thought was a healthy diet and then lost 100lbs on an “unhealthy diet” of meal replacements and shakes. After 5 years the weight all returned. I did not understand the principle of calorie density nor the idea that a plant strong diet could make me fat, but it did, until 5 short weeks ago when i listened to Jeff at the Farms2Forks weekend in Orange County. A lightbulb went on and since then i’ve been on what i now know to be a healthy diet – its a “no-added fats, wholefood, plant-based diet with limited avocado, nut and seeds” – That’s a huge mouthful in itself so, let’s just say – that i have finally found a health diet, which i am loving and is doing me good.

    My plan is to be a trail-blazer here in the UK for this kind of diet and to help others adopt this kind of lifestyle and improve their health.

    Thanks Jeff!

  • jennw
    Posted at 08:37h, 28 May

    Thank you for providing an easy to understand, clear explanation! Understanding is half of the battle:)

  • Carol
    Posted at 08:38h, 28 May

    Great response. it helped me understand the sugar concentration in whole foods, somethingI was never clear on. Would love to have your book! 🙂

  • Dawn Martin
    Posted at 08:39h, 28 May

    That’s the one thing that so many people fail to realize that all those dried fruits have so much sugar!!! It truly is a pleasure trap! I try to eat fruits, especially, in as natural form as possible.. preferably just like it’s grown! 🙂

  • Wendy Wetzel
    Posted at 08:41h, 28 May

    Thanks, Jeff…. I have been vegetarian for years, but went plant strong about a year ago. And I wasn’t losing weight (I only needed to lose about 25 pounds)…. as I read more of your material and really started looking at calorie density, I realized that the nuts and fats (and sugar, but not as much) were the issue. I’m 9 pounds away from my goal!

  • Maria Sansalone
    Posted at 08:41h, 28 May

    I’ve brought myself down from many foods without any official guidance except what felt good. It felt good not to eat steak, so I stopped. It felt good to stop eating corn and white rice and mashed potatoes, so I stopped. It felt good to fill my plate with salad and veggies, like green beans almondine, so I did. It still feels good 30 pounds lighter and later.

  • anna fox
    Posted at 08:43h, 28 May

    It can be a frustrating journey to figure all these things out. I was horrified when I learned about the problems with oils and now I am finding this information about the pleasure traps of these foods. I will definitely be incorporating this information into my diet.

  • Deb Hollimon
    Posted at 08:46h, 28 May

    I measure out my dried fruits and nuts that go in any recipe and keep them low.

  • Mrs. LCB
    Posted at 08:47h, 28 May

    I would love to read more – so much to learn!

  • Brenda Rowe
    Posted at 08:49h, 28 May

    I really need to thank you for all the help you have given me in getting plant strong and healthy. I have a long ways to go still but I am loosing weight and I am getting healthy each and every day. This information on sugar and fat concentrations helps me very much to understand why I do not crave sugar any more. I find foods high in fat and or sugar do not even taste very good. I use to crave these things constantly. I am now learning how to cook healthy. At 58 it is taking me awhile to change old recipes but slowly I am learning how to make things that are plant strong with out the need of recipes. It is by reading and researching and by seeing healthy recipes and how they are made plant strong. Soon I will be thinner and healthier.

  • Jack H
    Posted at 08:50h, 28 May

    Due to some health issues a few years ago, we began researching our foods and changing the way we eat and what we eat. It’s been a great adventure! Thanks for sharing the article with all of us and I will continue to share your information. I would love to learn and share more. Keep up the great work!

  • Penelope
    Posted at 08:51h, 28 May

    Yeppers! “Healthy food” and “healthy food that will make me gain weight” – there’s a fine line there. If I make a batch of black bean brownies when my husband is away, and I eat that whole pan of brownies, bad things will happen to my weight. Such a harsh lesson!

  • Susan
    Posted at 08:54h, 28 May

    My problem is that I don’t seem to quit eating at meals. I have to portion out what I think is reasonable and put the rest away immediately. I spend so much time in the kitchen prepping and cleaning up from meals that the temptation to keep nibbling is too great. It’s all very great food – all plants and whole grains – no oil or salt. But you still have to quit eating sometime!!

  • disqus_0rebVVTLMj
    Posted at 08:55h, 28 May

    Thank you! It is especially helpful to see the list comparing the sugar density of the foods we eat!

    • disqus_0rebVVTLMj
      Posted at 08:57h, 28 May

      I don’t know why my posting contained that strange “name” but it is from Connie Wilson Kopp. Weird!

  • Cathy Griffith
    Posted at 08:56h, 28 May

    Just what I needed to hear. I have been struggling and now I know why. Thanks so much.

  • Brenda Joyce Garner
    Posted at 08:56h, 28 May

    HEALTHFUL (health promoting; conducive to good health) foods are health-promoting foods, especially if they are HEALTHY (not diseased) foods.
    Good article. Thanks.

  • Dave G
    Posted at 08:57h, 28 May

    Thanks for the insights. I need to learn more about this balance. You read a lot about healthy foods but little about balancing them.

  • Margarete Amaral
    Posted at 08:58h, 28 May

    I dont know what happening with my post but I did and let me repeat,is amaizing how much we have to learn about all that,but for me since I learn how to read the label ,I try my best to keep me alway from that ! appreciate for share with us Jeff.

  • David Milmine
    Posted at 09:04h, 28 May

    Thanks for this weeks update Jeff — I have been Vegan for just over a year …. I lost some weight originally and stuck very close to the oilless – natural – whole foods that I would cook … I’m not one to buy a whole lot of those processed foods … but I get caught every once in a while … great reminder for what to look for … Thank you Jeff !!!!

  • Susannah
    Posted at 09:05h, 28 May

    Thanks for the information Jeff! It is always important to remind myself to look at the foods I eat to make sure they are truly healthy!

  • SFBayou
    Posted at 09:08h, 28 May

    Thanks for summarizing this information. A good reminder of what I learned at the E2 immersion.

  • Sue Lee R.
    Posted at 09:09h, 28 May

    This is such a timely article! My husband and I were just talking about this very thing this morning over breakfast. We have both lost weight and become healthier after initially switching to a whole-food plant-based way of eating. This last month we have not lost as much and we’ve noticed a greater ‘allowance’ of the heavier/denser foods into our diet. We decided it is time to get back to the very ‘basics’ that we were using when we were first introduced to this way of eating. It is easy, as we get more comfortable with the cooking and shopping and choosing of foods, to get caught up in knowing that something is OK to eat but NOT using the correct judgement as to whether it is OK to eat right now…if we are still trying to loose weight or gain that health that we are working towards. Thanks for this article just at this time…it corroborates our observations and helps to cement our commitment to health!

  • CJL
    Posted at 09:09h, 28 May

    Still trying the right balance – your advice is so welcome!

  • Jennifer
    Posted at 09:09h, 28 May

    Wow. Just when I think I learned a lot of new things, you show me more. This is wonderful insight and I can’t wait to stay reading your books. Thanks!

  • Janet
    Posted at 09:12h, 28 May

    Wise words. This is true for me. I do better if I don’t have date/nut truffles in the home and occasionally have a bite of a “real” dessert when we are in a restaurant.

  • SinisterK
    Posted at 09:12h, 28 May

    Interesting read. Had never thought about those snacks as being a downfall for some since they seemed sort of healthy.

  • Margie Orr
    Posted at 09:15h, 28 May

    Thanks for the reminders. Through the years when I wanted to lose five or ten pounds, I would count calories. I find it much easier to maintain weight loss now by eating foods with a lower concentration of fats and sugars.

  • kmik
    Posted at 09:15h, 28 May

    I had the pleasure of having this explained in person this past weekend by Jeff, and Dr. Lisle, at the Chicago Farms 2 Forks weekend. Highly recommended for anyone who just wants to be healthy! Jeff is a firecracker in person! Very intelligent and knowledgable, lots of positive energy being blasted off that stage!

  • Laura Henderson
    Posted at 09:16h, 28 May

    Thanx, both dried fruit & nuts can be a problem for me also!

  • Carol Ⓥ
    Posted at 09:26h, 28 May

    I love all of your recipes and videos but haven’t seen this one. looks interesting!

  • Jessica Blocker
    Posted at 09:28h, 28 May

    Great article. Sugars are sneaky everywhere. Learn new stuff everyday.

  • Yvonne
    Posted at 09:29h, 28 May

    Thanks Jeff – nice article. Probably explains why I ate so poorly after trying a small piece of my friend’s scone at lunch (it was really decadent). This seems to happen to me with refined flour products (like bread, cupcakes, scones, etc). With the scone I figured it was a combo of the fat and sugar – so would a low fat bread or tortilla not trigger a trip to the pleasure trap. Guess I am still confused about bread….

  • Madeline
    Posted at 09:29h, 28 May

    So…that box of dates stuffed with pecans that I just ate was a BAD idea? <– just kidding, I only ate half the box.

  • dmillerick
    Posted at 09:46h, 28 May

    Interesting information. So much to learn. Hope I can hear you live one day soon!

  • Debbie
    Posted at 09:46h, 28 May

    My last hurrah: sugar-dense foods. I’d save a fair amount of money if I didn’t buy things for date/nut balls or baking ingredients for muffins and the like, and I’m sure I’d feel pretty great too if I was sticking to more intact grains and whole fresh fruits too! Thanks for the giveaway!

  • AzBon
    Posted at 09:51h, 28 May

    Excellent information that I will use and share! My husband and and I were “almost” vegetarian for years, and have been completely vegan for 2 years. Your article deals well with the misconception that if food is plant-based, it is healthy and that the calories and fat content doesn’t matter. Too many (well-meaning) vegan experts tout the idea that a person can eat huge amounts, and the pounds will just melt off, once a person adopts a vegan diet, with no need to watch the calories/fat. Can’t ignore the calories in/calories burned balance…. It’s hard to outrun the fork! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Beverly
    Posted at 09:51h, 28 May

    This article has been helpful . My husband and I have been eating plant based since Feb of this year. The weight loss has been great but we do find now that it has decreased. His cholesterol has dropped from 228 to 137. I use dates to sweeten some dishes and I am surprised how much sweetness two soaked dates can have. I will be more watchful of the dried fruits. Thanks for the information.

  • PJ
    Posted at 09:56h, 28 May

    Thanks for the clear explanation. I really saw this in action , just recently after reading “My Beef with Meat” I cut out all the unnecessary fat in my diet and have seen an additional loss of 14 lbs. I went plant strong about a year ago and lost 34 lbs. I wasn’t feeling like the weight was coming off fast enough. I bought Rip’s book and it made sense, but after reading your article I understand what I was doing wrong. That “pleasure trap” was still controlling my eating. I would live to learn more about the science of nutrition. I started out this journey at 308lbs and am now down to 260. I have a long way to go but really believe that if I continue to exercise and educate myself , I can win the race.

  • Florence
    Posted at 09:58h, 28 May

    I just finished reading “The Pleasure Trap” so this is perfect timing for me. Always more to learn, and happy to learn it : ) Thanks!

  • Shana Brannon
    Posted at 09:59h, 28 May

    Most people like to give the excuse “at least it’s not _____”. Better does not necessarily mean good. Like a lot of people, I struggle with fat, sugar, and salt when I’m under stress. I would normally turn to exercise to alleviate some stress, but an injury is preventing that. I think I need to make some time for meditation!

  • Shelby Kuenzi
    Posted at 10:03h, 28 May

    Nut butters are my downfall, but I have mostly stopped buying nuts to keep in the house since I can’t keep my hands off them. When they are in the house, I hide them from view so I forget them.

  • Andrea Hoover Smith
    Posted at 10:17h, 28 May

    Wow! I need to sit down and take a closer look! I think I’ve been sabotaging my health, diet, etc.! Thanks Jeff!

  • Andrea Denton
    Posted at 10:17h, 28 May

    Wow, it’s amazing how simple, yet complicated, nutrition can be. Great info, thanks!

  • Lisa
    Posted at 10:18h, 28 May

    Excellent. Will be passing on to my patients, whom I am am attempting to educate regarding calorie density vs nutrient density.

  • April Carlson
    Posted at 10:19h, 28 May

    Very useful information as always, Jeff! The question is when you are sucked into the pleasure trap how do you get out of it? Because let’s face it when you’re “addicted” to a food there are both physical & psychological side effects when trying to break the addiction. I personally have been trying for more than a year to break this addiction. I find I do well for shirt bursts then the psychological sabotage begins…. how do I handle this?

  • Amber Keumurian
    Posted at 10:23h, 28 May

    Awesome, as usual, Jeff. Now, if you could just get the memo out to food servers across the country so when I say, “I don’t eat highly concentrated foods,” they won’t look at me like I have five heads. 🙂

  • BYOL
    Posted at 10:25h, 28 May

    great article. As always thanks for the great info!

  • Renee, the cooking RD
    Posted at 10:27h, 28 May

    From what I’ve heard, a small handful of nuts each day, is great for lipids, skin, etc. (and of course, that handful can be chopped into oatmeal, slivered on to green beans, etc). But most of us don’t stop at a handful and so, being high in fat, nuts are also calorically dense and thus a great way to gain weight. Of course, the other side of the equation is caloric expenditure (.e. exercise!) and when you equate nut calories with the minutes of exercise required to burn those calories, you might prefer munching on carrots and leaving the nuts for the squirrels (who, btw, do not eat the broccoli we leave out for them).

  • Totem5
    Posted at 10:28h, 28 May

    I try to stay “on the path”. I get “trapped” by a few foods. I then try to get back on the path, again. I try to focus on the good from the plant strong foods & the dangers of other “food”. 85 pounds, so far. So far to go, still. I see it in my clothes, mostly. And, I get comments from friends & family. They go blank if I try to talk about plant based whole foods. Most comments center around lack of variety. I tell them I know 20+ ways to make just about every veggie (cucumbers are a challenge).

  • Kathryn Bulver
    Posted at 10:51h, 28 May

    Great article. No wonder medjool dates taste so good! (I will from now on use no more than one or two, chopped into small pieces on my oatmeal, rather than using them as ‘nature’s candy’). I followed a raw-vegan diet for a while, and did a lot of reading about it at the time. So many of the recipes are full of fat (nuts AND oil) and/or sugars (“healthy”–yeah, right–agave nectar as the first ingredient, lots of medjool dates).

  • Sandy Weinberg
    Posted at 11:05h, 28 May

    Thanks Jeff, I’ve been a vegetarian for years but have just turned vegan and am finding it difficult with snacks etc. and am afraid to overdo fruit. Honestly I need a road map and it’s difficult at times since there are SO many experts but they tend to have different opinions which doesn’t make it any easier!

  • Michael
    Posted at 11:07h, 28 May

    Thanks for the insights, Jeff. With all the aggressive advertising and
    marketing by the food industry, it can be very easy to become confused
    and fall into the pleasure trap.

  • Melody
    Posted at 11:07h, 28 May

    “Health food is healthy food” is a great concept to learn. Knowing that
    the focus should always be on health truly keeps things in perspective.

  • Melissa
    Posted at 11:09h, 28 May

    While I had always thought a whole foods diet would be healthy, this
    post fully explains why that may not be the case and why so many people
    may still be struggling.

  • Rileen
    Posted at 11:18h, 28 May

    Thanks for all the info and insight as usual, Jeff!

    Besides this sort of pleasure trap, I’m also prone to having “just a little bit” more of delicious food that isn’t necessarily concentrated in fat or sugar – and the excess eventually accumulates, meaning that while I’ve never been more than 20 pounds overweight, I’ve been 10-20 pounds overweight for most of my adult life.

  • dgmusselman
    Posted at 11:21h, 28 May

    Thanks. This is a well-written, informative discussion of a topic I’ve been wondering about lately, i.e., whole foods and the sugar/fat issue.

  • Rileen
    Posted at 11:22h, 28 May

    Thanks for all the info and insight as usual, Jeff!

    Besides this sort of pleasure trap, I’m also prone to having “just a little bit” more of delicious food that isn’t necessarily concentrated in fat or sugar – and the excess eventually accumulates, meaning that while I’ve never been more than 20 pounds overweight, I’ve been 10-20 pounds overweight for most of my adult life.

  • Maddy
    Posted at 11:24h, 28 May

    Sometimes it feels as if nothing stays true for any length of time. New research and new opinions are added to the mix at such a speed that it is difficult to keep up with the changes. Having these explanations for ‘why’ we need to watch nuts and dried fruits makes it a lot easier to understand and follow the advice, so thank you for being clear.

  • Andrea
    Posted at 11:30h, 28 May

    This makes so much sense. When I was eating raw, even though I was following 80-10-10, I found that I craved more concentrated foods. Slowly more nuts and nut butters would come into my diet. Eventually it led to eating higher density foods. I have decided to try the McDougall approach, and I am feeling way more satiated. No desire for nuts at all, maybe every 4 or 5 days. And just a handful. Impressive. Thanks Jeff, love your work.

  • Angela N.
    Posted at 11:35h, 28 May

    Great thing to point out. I already knew this however, you did a great job of presenting it in an easy to understand format. So this is why I am addicted to Larabars! I really need to get a handle on this addiction to nuts, dates, dried raisins and dried figs. Guess I probably need to stop buying them.

  • Sharon Shaw
    Posted at 11:42h, 28 May

    Excellent information! Knowledge is power!

  • Bob
    Posted at 11:45h, 28 May

    While I had thought I would no longer have to worry about the pleasure
    trap on a whole foods, plant-based diet, it is extremely valuable to see
    that while such a diet is an important step to becoming healthy, it is
    not the only one. Thanks, Jeff!

  • Michael Wallk
    Posted at 11:51h, 28 May

    Jeff, thanks for your thoughtful analysis. I like the way you quantify the issue. It makes a lot more sense than talking about good and bad foods.

    I feel empowered by the information.

    Thanks again.

  • Tim
    Posted at 11:52h, 28 May

    Thanks so much, Jeff, for continuing to keep us informed about just what we need to do to be truly healthy. Being able to identify the “pleasure trap” seems to be another important part of that.

  • Just Me
    Posted at 12:07h, 28 May

    I knew dried fruits were higher in sugar but had no idea they were equal to table sugar. Too bad…I love dates. But it makes sense why I started having blood sugar spikes again. Time to nix those dates.

  • Jennika Ella Wasilewsky
    Posted at 12:15h, 28 May

    good information to know and consider when making daily choices.

  • Jane Smith
    Posted at 12:19h, 28 May

    I LOVE dried fruit. I have to limit myself to including it in occasional meals or I could sit down and eat a whole bag of dates.

  • Ellen
    Posted at 12:31h, 28 May

    Wonderful information, and the exact reminder I needed. I’ve lost 35lbs switching to a plant-based diet but have found myself falling victim to dried fruits and nuts when I’m too lazy to prepare something good. I will be printing this article out so I can constantly see it and remind myself to not fall into “the pleasure trap”!

  • hecticmompics
    Posted at 12:41h, 28 May

    ACK!! I think I’m stuck in the pleasure trap and I’m not sure how to get out!!!

  • Dee
    Posted at 12:58h, 28 May

    Thanks very much for addressing this topic. The sugar concentration list caused me to GASP!! I will now check your site daily.

  • Mary Rounds Tagliarino
    Posted at 13:18h, 28 May

    I’ve had a similar experience! I initially lost 85 lbs on a whole-foods plant based diet, but after being stable for almost a year, I’ve recently gained about 7 lbs. Belly fat has always been my biggest problem and most of my gain has been in that area. Even though I thought I was still eating totally healthy, this article made me realize I have recently been going overboard in the areas of calorie density and overall calories as well. In the last 2 months, I’ve also been incorporating coconut oil – about 1 tsp./day into my diet, because of my family risk of Alzheimer’s and my age and also because I have been pre-diabetic for years. There is now a very strong link between Alzheimer’s (diabetes of the brain) and diabetes, and this has been substantiated by a physician treating her own husband and getting great results with coconut oil… I add no other oil to my food and aside from coconut oil, I am pretty strictly on the Engine 2 Diet.

  • Caroline
    Posted at 13:37h, 28 May

    Dates are addictive for me so I just had to come to the conclusion that I can’t eat them. I can get by just fine with a sprinkling of raisins or a few prunes or apricots though. Dates not so much. I can also manage a few nuts and even peanut butter but I have to be careful with the peanut butter though.

  • Debbie Phillips
    Posted at 13:58h, 28 May

    Great information. I was going to buy some dried banana chips one day until I read the ingredients list and saw how much sugar they contained. I have learned to always read the labels, and I try to stay away from processed foods as much as possible.

  • Rachel Greenberg Haymond
    Posted at 14:01h, 28 May

    Thank you so much for this article! Jeff is so good at clearing up things I’m a bit confused about in a way that I can actually understand. I have definitely noticed myself falling into the pleasure trap with a few things we like to make, even though they are “whole, unprocessed, and plant based.” We will be much more observant now in regards to those things.

  • LA Dory
    Posted at 14:43h, 28 May

    I do snack on Medjool dates (no more than 3 of them) and also olives–the big green ones with a clove of garlic in them. I sometimes just crave the texture of meat and olives seem to satisfy that. I cannot eat much soy because my skin breaks out. I wonder if all of this is why I have not lost weight on a plant-based diet. I’m also 62 and I take Lovastatin and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Can these be factors as well?

  • jom
    Posted at 14:48h, 28 May

    On point! Loved this column. There were many great parts to the Chicago Farms 2 Forks weekend for me, but the most useful bit for me personally was the reminders about nuts and their high calorie density. Such an important lesson to learn (and be reminded about/relearn)!

  • MaryEllen
    Posted at 18:20h, 28 May

    Great message. I especially appreciated seeing the numbers!

  • Tim Salin
    Posted at 19:51h, 28 May

    WOW this makes a lot of sense to me, as a recovering alky addict does this explain a lot and once I open the gate its Katy bar the door as I just slide downhill even as I feel worse and everything goes. Last year I lost 70 lbs and felt fantastic on a plant based diet then went on RAGBRAI and off to the races so this I think will really help me with my triggers

  • Reggie
    Posted at 00:10h, 29 May

    Well said Jeff. Often I find that vegan recipes are very concentrated in sugars and fats and not always the best answer to balanced nutrient dense meals. I’m still a fan though of vegan sweets and snacks over refined highly processed ones, but everything in moderation.

  • Wisconsin reader
    Posted at 00:58h, 29 May

    Very useful information, thank you!

  • Joan Siekiersi
    Posted at 07:18h, 29 May

    This reminds me of your cashew story, I have told that story a 100 times!!! I’m still working on my husband and the whole nut thing!! I’ve tried to get through his head that nuts are OK as a condiment, not as the whole meal!!!

  • Liz
    Posted at 17:50h, 29 May

    Timely article. Success in losing weight is getting the proper information and paying attention to detail. Following a “strict” version of CHIP has resulted in my obtaining my ideal weight maintaining it. I have been following the program for nearly 3 years. Not sure what you mean by whole foods. I take your advice and read labels before buying. The front of the package rarely tells the truth. Nuts and peanut butter are a challenge for me.

  • Jenny
    Posted at 23:57h, 29 May

    It seems so obvious now that you explained it, but I never realized that concentrated sugars was causing me to fall victim to the pleasure trap. When I’m hankering for something sweet, I’ll try an apple instead of a handful of dried fruit next time. Thanks for the great article!

  • Beverly
    Posted at 12:35h, 30 May

    I do believe it is difficult at times to not eat too many nuts, too much sugar. I do, however, love fruit and have learned that I don’t need a lot of the the pleasure foods. I also have more luck controlling them when I just have a small amount.

  • helen
    Posted at 16:27h, 14 June

    Eye-opener! Taking oil out of my diet makes it clear what a craving/trigger food like nuts or coconut oil means. Almost makes this a ‘day-at-a-time’ life event. Many thanks, Jeff!

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